November 25, 2011

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Panel Patter Goes to Super Art Fight 12 in Baltimore, Maryland

Last Saturday, Erica and I had the distinct pleasure to take advantage of our proximity to the Charles Village part of Baltimore, Maryland to take in our first (but definitely not last!) viewing of a Super Art Fight.
Captain Caveman is the 1%!

I'd heard of Super Art Fight before, but hadn't really thought much about going to one of these events.  I feared it might be too insular, one of those things you do as a cartoonist for other cartoonists.  I was soon to discover that nothing could be further from the truth.

We almost didn't go at all, but when I heard that Adam Warrock was going to be the headline act, it sold me on the deal.  If nothing else, it would be a good night of nerdcore rap.  Warrock had been in Baltimore recently, but it was a weeknight, and those are a bit tricky on our work schedules.  I'd been listening to his stuff for awhile now, so I was excited to get to see him in person.

For those who have never been to a Super Art Fight before, the idea is deceptively simple yet leads to all kinds of complex visual puns and other hilarity.  A large canvas is draped across the stage, starting off with almost nothing on it, save some notations that it is from Super Art Fight.  Then a certain number of creators are brought to the stage.  These creators have twenty five minutes to duel on the canvas, trying to be the more popular cartoonist.
Adam Warrock closes the Super Art Fight

Now, if that was all there was to it, Super Art Fight would be fun. Watching two or more people quick draw for twenty five minutes with no room to go back and edit, limited space, and the pressure of a cheering (or jeering) audience is quite the challenge.

But the folks behind this event have built multiple ways to complicate matters for the wielders of the oversized Sharpies that are used to mark up the white paper.

First, each artist starts with their own topic. So far, so good.  However, every five minutes, they must pull a lever and have a topic selected for them by the "wheel of death."  These are not normal topics, either.  You can have everything from "Occupy Sesame Street" to "Cute Animals on Fire" to "Calamari Damacy" to "Batman Arkham Horror."   As if this were not bad enough, the contestants are encouraged to deface each others' art in the most hilarious ways possible, based on the new topics.  As the time runs down and the canvas fills up, only those with the quickest wits can keep finding ways to add to the picture.  It's easy to break when the pressure is on and your subject is "Tron Swanson."
Aww, Sad Pug is Sad

The whole thing is aided and abetted by two commentators, who doing running patter on what the artists are working on, even interacting with them, depending on who was on stage and what was going on.  They arguably have the hardest role in the proceedings, because they have to keep the audience cheering and riff on the art, all without knowing exactly what is going to happen next.  Their jokes and banter weren't all winners, but when you have to make commentary for over two hours, that's expected.  I was impressed by just how funny they could be, especially since for the most part neither went in for lowest-common-denominator jokes, unless it was for the express purpose of getting a rise out of someone.  They knew they had a smart audience, and made jokes accordingly.
A canvas, just about finished.
There were four matches on the night we attended.  The opening bout had three contenders, including a crowd favorite, a former champion (and the ultimate winner), and one of Baltimore's own Charm City Roller Derby girls, who had great artistic skills but was unable to best her opponents.  Next up was a tag-team event with one side featuring a ninja and a businessman and the other a Dr. Who from another dimension with a crossdressing Amy as a companion.  The third bout had two very large gentlemen going at it, and while neither of them spoke, their antics were the highlight of the night for me.  (I also think they turned in the best work.)  The final bout was for the championship, with a dapper gentlemen going again a mock superhero who left little to the imagination.  They also worked well, showing why they were up against each other for the title belt.

After the first two matches, Rare Candy came on to perform some video game music, and while I am not an expert in the field, I thought they did a great job with everything from Castlevania to Yoshi.  They had a high energy that fit in well with the overall event.

It was very late by the time Adam came on, and I admit that I was not as hyped up as I might have been had he played at, say, 11PM instead of 12:30 at night.  That was no problem for him, however, as Warrock practically lept unto the stage and gave his all to a crowd that was really into his music--if a bit tired.  He debuted a few tracks he'd not performed live before, and showed that he's moving into areas of nerdcore that don't directly involve comic books, which I think is a good move for him.  Sadly, I can't rock on to Dr. Who as much as I might have before, as I am no longer a heretic, having converted to the show in a big way a few weeks ago.

We had to leave before Adam's show was over, just out of sheer exhaustion. However, do not miss an opportunity to catch his act if you can--he's a great entertainer, and a cool person to talk to before the show.

Super Art Fight was a great time.  We got to be out with people who are like us--lovers of things that are both cool and geeky at the same time.  I was able to show off my one-liner chops (winning a Twitter contest in the process!) and display my penchant for hearty laughter.  There were plenty of jokes, a ton of great art, and an environment that felt welcoming for old friends and new visitors alike.

Super Art Fight travels around the East Coast.  If you hear about a show coming to town near you, don't hesitate...go learn just how fun competitive quick drawing can be!